Abuja — President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday pleaded with members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other industrial unions in government-owned universities that are presently on strike to call of their industrial action in the interest of the students.
But in reaction, the university lecturers and non-teaching staff turned down the appeal by the federal government to go back to their posts while negotiations on the grievances continue.
The president, who made the passionate plea at the 19th National Productivity Day and the conferment of the National Productivity Order of Merit Award (NPOM) on 48 eminent Nigerians and organisations in both the public and private sectors, at Abuja, said it was high time the university lecturers considered the plight of students and call off the ongoing strike.
Buhari also urged students in the nation's public tertiary institutions to exercise patience, saying his government was striving to address the nagging issues in the university system within the ambit of resources available.
He disclosed that he had directed his Chief of Staff, the Ministers of Labour and Employment, Education, Finance, Budget and National Planning, to immediately bring all parties to the negotiation table to again critically look at the grey areas in the demands of ASUU and all other university-based labour unions.
Commenting on the theme of this year's celebration "Achieving Higher Productivity through Improved Education System," the president pledged that the federal government would continue to do everything possible to uplift the standard of the educational system in the country, adding that his administration recognised that the future of any nation is premised on the standard of its educational system.
"Therefore, if we desire to transform Nigeria into a competitive, strong, vibrant, productive and sustainable economy, improving our educational system should be accorded the highest priority," he added.
Reeling out notable achievements in the education sector including the drastic reduction of the number of out of school children from 10.1million in 2019 to 6.9 million in 2020, automatic employment for graduates of education, review of the retirement age of teachers from 60 to 65 years, among others, the president said more still needed to be done.
According to him: "Quality educational system is good not just for the national economy; it is also good for the citizens.
"Ignoring the productivity dimension of education would endanger the prosperity of future generations, with widespread repercussions for poverty and social exclusion.
"It will be difficult to improve our economic performance and overall productivity, without improving our educational system.
"Government notes the emergency situation in our educational system with particular reference to the dearth of qualified and dedicated teachers to enhance the quality of teaching and learning at all levels of our educational system."
To address these challenges, Buhari said his administration had reviewed the retirement age of teachers from 60 to 65 years, while years of service have now been moved from 35 to 40 years to encourage more graduates to join the teaching profession.
The president also said government had approved a special salary scale for teachers in Basic and Secondary schools including provisions for rural posting allowance, Science teachers allowance and peculiar allowance, while prioritising timely promotion and prompt payment of salaries.
He further stressed that the reintroduction of bursary award to education students in universities and Colleges of Education comes with assurance of automatic employment upon graduation as well as payment of stipends to Bachelor of Education students.
Congratulating all the awardees for their various accomplishments and well deserved recognition, Buhari said they have been carefully selected from a multitude of competitors, saying "this award should spur you to greater heights."
He also commended the Chairman and members of the National Productivity Order of Merit Award Committee, including the management and staff of National Productivity Centre for a job well done, urging the recipients of the merit award and Nigerians to make productivity their watchword.
Earlier in his remarks, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige said since the inception of the award in 1991, 382 individuals and 97 organisations have been honoured with the NPOM.
Dr. Stella Adadevoh and Mr. Babatunde Lawal, received posthumous awards at the 2019/2020 edition of the National Productivity Day.
Adadevoh, who died on August 19, 2014, was recognised for her outstanding performance in the fight against the spread of the Ebola virus in the country while Lawal, who until his death on November 6, 2020 served as Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Affairs Office.
Lawal, an economist by training with bias in fiscal policy analysis, management and strategic planning, was commended for his thoroughness and paying keen attention to every detail during his tenure as Permanent Secretary in the Federal Civil Service.
Other recipients include the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Abdullahi Adamu; the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; immediate past Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu; Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi; Chairman and Founder, BUA Group, Abdusamad Rabiu; Chairman of Globacom, Mike Adenuga Jnr; Director General of the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), Professor Stanley Okolo and Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, Jim Ovia, among others
Meanwhile, at the meeting between the federal government team, ASUU and other registered Trade Unions in Nigerian universities, as well as identified interest groups, the federal government prevailed on the striking workers to accept a deal of calling off their strike while efforts were being made to resolve the dispute.
However, the unions refused to back down from continuing the strike, saying there was nothing on ground from the government side to warrant that.
Although ASUU president refused to speak to journalists on the outcome of the meeting, one of the union members told THISDAY that there was nothing new except that the government team wanted them to call off the strike which they rejected.
"There was nothing on ground for us to consider. We are not stopping the strike untill something concrete is done," he said
Minister of Labour and Employment Senator Chris Ngige who spoke journalists after the meeting said: "We have reached some agreements and we hope that by next week, those agreements will be maturing and the different unions will have something to tell their members, so that they can call off the strike.
"We have put some timelines for some aspects like renegotiation of 2009 agreement in terms of condition of service and wage review. So, we are hopeful that by next weekend, the unions will see a conclusion of that area."
Earlier, while addressing the leadership of the unions and stakeholders at the opening of the talks, Chief of Staff to the president, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari appealed to the university workers to sheath their sword and agree to return to work while discussions over their demands go on.
He said that something needed to be done urgently to reopen the institutions and to prevent students from protesting on the streets.
According to him, allowing the strike to prolong further would not be in the interest of anyone, adding that President Muhammadu Buhari has mandate the team to try and end the strike so students, lecturers and other workers can go back to work.
On their part, the two Co-chair of the Nigeria Interreligious Council (NIREC), Sultan of Sokoto, Sa'ad Abubakar II and president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Rev Samson Ayokunle urged ASUU and the non-teaching staff unions to accept the president's plea and suspend their strike while efforts are made to address the issues in dispute.
However, ASUU president, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke said that before the current strike, the union had given enough period of grace to enable the government and it's agencies to meet with them and to address their demands but to no avail.